17 Feb 2019

Media big and small step up to keep fires covered

From Mediawatch, 9:12 am on 17 February 2019

The Nelson Tasman fires were a major challenge for the big media outlets to cover with no idea how bad it would get or how long they would last. Local media also played a crucial role too - including one station whose HQ was in sight of the flames. 

The front page of Nelson Mail's weekend edition.

The front page of Nelson Mail's weekend edition. Photo: PHOTO / RNZ Mediawatch

When it became clear the fires raging in Nelson and Tasman were no flash in the pan, national media organisations scrambled to get reporters and teams into the region. 

The story led the 6 pm TV news each night and online outlets launched live blogs for the latest information - RNZ's ran for eight straight days - and streamed Civil Defence briefings live online and via Facebook. 

Fresh FM's Nelson HQ.

Fresh FM's Nelson HQ. Photo: supplied

Local media outlets like Stuff's Nelson Mail knew how big the story was straight away and so did local media outlets that don't specialise in news coverage.

Brian FM may come from "a crappy little building downtown"  - as its own promo insist - but even though it usually has no ads, no live DJs and no newsroom - it played up to date Civil Defence messages every hour. 

Local stations of national radio networks like NZME's The Hits and MediaWorks More FMare 'networked' to the national output.  

MediaWorks said More FM & Magic Talk are MediaWorks’ key Civil Defence stations and they work with key agencies and local networks to get the best information on air in times like this.

Increased local hours were run on both More FM and The Breeze local stations in response to the Nelson fires.

Josh Fogden, Nelson’s operations manager and More FM host, helmed a 10-hour local on-air shift on the Friday after the emergency was declared and The Breeze Nelson host Blair Kiddey did extra local shifts on the weekend too.

During Civil Defence emergencies, MediaWorks said it drops network content and increases local hours and this can be done at a minute's notice.

The view from Fresh FM as fire on Walters Bluff near Nelson erupts.

Fire breaks out at Walters Bluff forcing the evacuation of Fresh FM in Nelson. Photo: Supplied / Helen Reynolds Fresh FM

But there was certainly more than that from thoroughly local community station Fresh FM.

It's HQ is in Nelson, but uniquely for a New Zealand community station, Fresh FM can broadcast from three other  locations too - Takaka, Motueka and Blenheim.

And that became critical when a fire on Walter's Bluff erupted last week and forced the evacuation of Fresh FM's Nelson studio in Founders Park.  

"The fire erupted just across the road and took hold in a heartbeat. It was terrifying,"  station manager Helen Reynolds told Mediawatch. 

The station staff have had to work harder to stay on air because many of the volunteers that keep the station going were also fighting against the fires around the region, she said.

"We broadcast across four frequencies over two provinces. Having to shut down in Nelson, we could switch to Golden Bay or Motueka," she said.  

Helen Reynolds says important safety information was well communicates by text and social media, but "old fashioned terrestrial broadcasting" comes into its own in situations like this.  

Helen Reynolds, Fresh FM manager.

Helen Reynolds Photo: supplied

"In emergency situations people are not always able to charge their phones or have access to computers when they're out of sync and evacuated," she said. 

She also praised the national media for stepping up. 

"There was a plethora of reporters here covering things. Accommodating them all was probably quite tricky," she said.